Position: Outfield, first base
Full Name: George Lee Nicknames: Daddy Long Legs
Date of Birth: March 20, 1933
Current Residence: O’Fallon, Missouri
High School: Dillard High School, Goldsboro
College: Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tenn.
Bats: L Throws: R Height and Weight: 6-4, 200
Debut Year: 1959 Final Year: 1967 Years Played: 9
Team(s) and Years: Chicago Cubs, 1959-62; St. Louis Cardinals, 1963; N.Y. Mets, 1964; Cubs, 1965-67
Awards: All-star, 1961-62
G AB H R RBI HR BA. OBP. SLG. WAR
991 3091 832 409 403 101 .269 .329 .432 13.0
George Altman’s playing career spanned almost three decades, crossed two continents and embraced white, black and Asian cultures. It was a journey that started in the Negro Leagues, where he played under the universally beloved Buck O’Neil, made a nine-year stop in the major leagues, where he was an all-star, and ended finally in Tokyo, where he swatted home runs into his 40s.
Born in Goldsboro, Altman was the only child of Willie, a tenant farmer who later became an auto mechanic, and Clara, who died when her son was four.
One of Dillard High School’s most accomplished athletes, Altman graduated in 1951 and went to Nashville, Tenn., to play basketball for the legendary John McLendon at what is now Tennessee State University. He began patrolling the outfield when the school started its baseball program during Altman’s junior year.
Altman hoped to play professional basketball after graduation in 1955, but the NBA didn’t draft him. He ended up in Kansas City, instead, where he tried out for the city’s Monarchs, the oldest team in the Negro Leagues. O’Neil, the team’s manager, liked what he saw and proceeded to turn Alston into a first baseman.
“I had been an outfielder all of the way,” Altman wrote in his 2013 autobiography, “but Buck taught me how to play first base and I played first base for the Monarchs that summer. He taught me all of the moves around the bag when receiving the throws from the infielders.”
Starting with the pathfinder, Jackie Robinson, the Monarchs supplied more players to the majors than any other Negro League team: Satchel Paige, Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, Willard Brown and Hank Thompson.
Altman joined the list at the end of the Monarch’s season when he signed with the Chicago Cubs. After a couple of years in the minors and a couple of more in the Army, Altman was the starting centerfielder in Wrigley Field in 1959. Two years later, he was a National League All-Star when he hit .303-27-96 with a league-leading 12 triples. Altman made the all-star team again in 1962 when he hit .318, even though a sprained wrist in June hampered his power production.
They would be his two best seasons in the major leagues. Maybe the Cubs’ saw something because the team traded Altman, along with pitcher and fellow North Carolinian Don Cardwell, to the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of the 1962 season. Altman said all the right things at the time, but he later wrote, “To say that I was shocked would definitely be an understatement.”
He had a disappointing season with St. Louis and was traded to the cellar-dwelling N.Y. Mets where he played hurt and hit just .230.
For the third time in three years, Altman was traded again, back to the Cubs, in January 1965. His last two years in the majors were uninspiring. He hit .228 in 178 games with only 9 homers and 40 RBI.
Demoted to the minors, Altman at age 34 in 1968 embarked on new and fruitful career in Japan. During eight seasons with the Tokyo Orions, Altman hit 205 home runs and drove in 656 in 935 games. He hit below .300 only in 1969 and 1975, his last year in baseball when he was 42 and recovering from colon cancer.
Altman returned to Chicago where he married for the second time in 1976 to Etta Allison, a piano teacher. They had two children.
He had worked in the offseason for more than a decade on the Chicago Board of Trade as a commodities trader. He continued trading from his home in retirement, while volunteering with groups that mentored kids.
Altman and Etta moved to O’Fallon, a suburb of St. Louis, in 2002 where they live still.